Even for well-established online retailers, product presentation that yields inspired customers is a difficult feat to achieve. The standard merchandising approach uses a tried (and tired) format of simple navigation through a grid of product images based on boost-and-bury techniques, menus, option filters and checkout. Meanwhile, the beautiful imagery consumers can identify with emotionally within digital content lives on landing pages or banners that aren't shoppable.
In the digital gorge separating “buy the grid” practices from the use of lifestyle photography, the art of visually merchandising product sets (a cornerstone of the brick-and-mortar retail experience) is lost. At best, product photographs are displayed among similar, not complementary, items — e.g., shown within categorical pages of swimwear without sun hats or beach towels alongside — for which the shopper has to put fitting combinations together themselves.
For the consumer, that isn’t as simple as it may sound. In an online experience, the consumer cannot try on items in a dressing room or even hold them up next to each other. Thus an immense burden rests on the online retailer. There's competitive pressure to provide the convenience of online shopping while creating an engaging brick-and-mortar experience.
The retailer’s challenge is compounded by today’s brief mobile attention span of consumers. The average mobile shopper spends 58 percent less time on a site than when they're on a desktop. This has led to a change in browsing behavior, with consumers increasingly snacking on retail sites on an increasing array of devices, including phones, tablets and laptops. As a result, the attention paid to your products is fleeting unless an engaging experience captivates them.
Somewhere between the super fast, content-snacking consumer and the standard, bland nature of e-commerce, the fulfillment of online retail’s potential has staggered.
Reimagined as an Immersive Experience
Retailers need to take a step back, note how consumers typically use their website and reimagine interactions as immersive experiences. To capture the attention of the fast-moving shopper, that experience must also be immediately transactional. Retailers need to have rich, creative content that's shoppable right from the moment a consumer lands on the page.
Landing pages, “Buy Now” buttons, attractive media, “quick looks” that expand an image to reveal more details like size or color options, and a simplified path to purchase are all tools that a retailer can utilize. Better still, mini campaigns that visually merchandise collections will keep the consumer engaged in what should fundamentally be an online experience (and not an online catalog).
There are, of course, operational challenges in developing these experiences. Producing creative assets, enlisting graphic design, coding website features and amending seasonal collections are lengthy and expensive processes — especially if they're outsourced to a third-party agency. Recruiting the help of a third party can ensure the process from ideation to publication will span weeks to months, in addition to a significant financial investment.
The opportunity cost of that extra time and money means a retailer cannot capitalize on emerging trends or social context. This backlog can potentially hobble the creative process because it's incongruous with the needs of a fast-moving fashion retailer.
Elevate the E-Commerce Experience
However, in recent years, sophisticated techniques enabled by new technology platforms help elevate the e-commerce experience. As these techniques become more widely available, savvy retailers are changing their digital approach. Long-form experiences, content sliders with large hero images adorned with “Buy” buttons, animations, embedded videos and more are now within reach of all but the smallest retail businesses.
At Marks & Spencer (M&S), the digital team always viewed content as strategically important, with the company website employing rich media designed to increase customer engagement and sales.
Furthering that premise, M&S has made its seasonal lifestyle content immediately shoppable and integrated with its Demandware store. M&S deployed quick-view buttons that simultaneously display additional product images and immediate buying options. Quick views were only previously available on the company’s product listing pages because enabling the feature was a highly manual process that required coding each quick-view into lifestyle content. Now, M&S has a scalable solution to deploy quick-views on any site experience.
With the introduction of seasonal campaigns featuring some of M&S’s best creative imagery, the customer is kept within a media-rich environment and able to continue shopping with none of the friction associated with grid-based, back-and-forth navigation. In other words, M&S is able to capitalize on its web visitors by shortening the path to purchase with shoppable content.
From the consumer’s perspective, the M&S experience is more interactive and fun than a traditional website shopping experience. Another example of highly interactable, shoppable content implemented by M&S is the “Mix & Match Swimwear” interface. This feature enables a person to experiment with swimwear by virtually pairing different bikini tops and bottoms. Never mind that the pieces might not have been designed as a set; M&S is allowing the customer to follow their own inspiration in a similar way that one would in-store — finding a preferred item and arranging it with other items to make a personalized outfit.
To create such an engaging consumer experience, M&S had to implement software that imparted more freedom upon the creative team while rendering it less dependent on the web development team. Newly adopted, simple drag-and-drop tools in the digital publishing environment made publishing such campaigns possible. And because the tools are simple, the team is able to experiment with and amend content quickly — without the hassle of coding.
Results Speak for Themselves
Last year, the M&S Holiday Shop campaign was deployed over three pages (women’s wear, men’s wear and kids). This year, with new tools at its disposal, the entire campaign is one holistic experience. On one of the company’s international sites, M&S achieved 28 percent more visits and 75 percent more page views, almost doubling the time that customers engaged with the content that was displayed. The average order value also increased by more than 50 percent. Combining these improvements with a slight conversion lift has resulted in a 100 percent increase in revenue generated by this campaign alone.
By recalibrating your approach to online retail and viewing it as an opportunity to create shoppable experiences via the creativity of your marketing team, it's entirely possible to establish engaging connections with consumers — and boost sales in the process.
Brian Rigney is the CEO of Zmags, a company that helps brands create rich shoppable content without coding.
Brian Rigney, CEO of Zmags, has over twenty years’ experience leading high performing, entrepreneurial teams in launching new businesses and bringing innovative new products to market. For more information on Zmags, please visit their website and follow the company on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter.